I love visiting Japan, especially Tokyo. The scores of music retail establishments, the delectable food, the hustle and bustle of the streets, the extreme etiquette and work ethics, their way of life… all serve up an out of world experience for me each time I am there. Just wandering in the aisles of pre-loved CDs is a joy I cannot describe. So it is not a surprise that I read a lot of Japanese literature. I enjoyed Hiromi Kawakami’s The Briefcase (Strange Weather in Tokyo) a lot and gave a soft whop of joy when I found her new one at the library.
The Nakano Thrift Shop is a repository of secondhand goods. It is run by an eccentric Mr Nakano, and his two young employees, Hitomi and Takeo. Sometimes they get hold of quirky stuff for sale like a life-sized standee of 80s pop-star Seiko Matsuda (I was a big fan 😃) holding a sewing machine or an antique bowl that might carry a curse. It is a quaint shop that is an intersecting point for different lives at different times.
Each chapter is named after an item that will find itself being sold or feature in some curious way at the shop. This is not a plot-driven novel. It has a very vignette feel with short little stories of people who are associated with the shop, which if you think about it, are probably stories about you and me.
The tone of the novel is unrushed and a little Zen. It is subtly observed and gently magical. Kawakami knows how to make mundane everyday lives feel like magic. It’s hard not to smile while reading this.